Yesterday, Dr. Mark Ridley-Thomas and his legal team appeared before Judge Dale S. Fischer to argue motions calling for either acquittal or a new trial. The hearing convened at 10 a.m. and lasted approximately one hour and five minutes.
The 7th Floor Court Room was filled to capacity, largely with MRT supporters. Friends, family and community leaders filled the gallery. They included actor Glynn Turman; pastors Mary Minor, Xavier Thompson, Norman Johnson Sr., William Smart, Thembekila Smart; Apostle Beverly Crawford; Father Gus Taylor; Bishops Byron Smith and Sylvester Washington; Michael Bernard Beckwith; Dr. Robert Ross; Dr. Lynn Goodloe; Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith; John Semcken; Mary Lee; Harry McElroy; Anthony Thigpenn; Karly Katona; Crystal Crawford; Emily Williams; Celeste Rose; Vincent Harris; Howard Sunkin; David Louie; Cynthia McClain-Hill; and Diane Roberts. Because the gallery was overflowing, the court clerk allowed any practicing attorney in attendance to sit in the jury box – which immediately filled up, as well.
Motion for Acquittal (RULE 29)
Defense Counsel Galia Z. Amram began the hearing by summarizing the Defense’s arguments as made in its Rule 29 motion. This motion consumed the majority of the hearing’s time. Specifically, she raised the following points:
- What constitutes an official act? The Government, in its response to MRT’s Rule 29 motion, claimed that a “vote is a vote.” But, as Amram highlighted, the County Board of Supervisors’ approval of the Telehealth contract was decided on the consent calendar. There was no definitive action by MRT on the item.
- Materiality: The Government contends that MRT’s actions with USC demonstrate materiality. However, the Defense indicated that MRT’s fiduciary duty was to the County of Los Angeles, not to USC or United Ways of California. As such, he was obliged to follow the County's rules and standards - which he did. The Government contends that MRT’s actions with USC demonstrate materiality (the quality of being relevant or significant).
- Evidence of breach of fiduciary duty: Amram highlighted for Judge Fischer that the Prosecution called no county witnesses and that emails and/or conversations between USC personnel do not constitute evidence of a breach of fiduciary duty by MRT.
- The Government improperly argued a conflict of interest theory to obtain a conviction. Amram indicated that the Prosecution raised the “conflict of interest issue” repeatedly during the trial without disclosing what the conflict was. She added that an undisclosed conflict is not sufficient to convict pursuant to the Skilling Supreme Court case.
- Quid Pro Quo: In its Rule 29 response brief and during the trial, the Prosecution argued that the Defendant committed an official act in exchange for something of value. But the Prosecution never established what that act was. The Defense stated that mere speculation is not sufficient evidence to convict.
- Value: Amram discussed at length the concept of “value, especially the value of the Telehealth contract.” The Defense made a strong argument that the Telehealth contract was an administrative matter, and thus had no value. Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, who received a scholarship and professorship from USC, met the qualifications for both – and thus had no value. Further, MRT contributed $100,000 from his campaign funds, spending the money himself and received no personal benefit. Amram concluded by making the point that the total value of “benefits” to MRT was zero and did not meet the minimum federal bribery threshold of $5,000.
- Editor's note: While not stated by Amram, the determination of value is critically important. It will be a factor should the case advance to sentencing.
Motion for New Trial (RULE 33)
Daralyn J. Durie summarized the Defense’s Rule 33 motion, arguing that major missteps and errors by the Prosecution invalidated the trial’s outcome. Her primary points were:
The Government key witness (FBI Agent Adkins) asserted on the stand that then Director, LA County Department of Mental Health Dr. John Sherin’s written justification in support of the Telehealth contract was disingenuous (Adkins alleged that Sherin made critical comments during an interview but this assertion was not entered into evidence as Sherin was not called as a witness). Similarly, the Government’s statements that MRT had threatened to cancel or rescind the contract is not in the public record (nor in evidence). Consistent with their court filings, Defense Counsel maintained that the FBI Agent’s testimony was tainted and made at least three false statements during his testimony. With prosecutorial misconduct and insufficient evidence, along with inaccurate and improper testimony as the predicate, Durie concluded by saying, “This is a case in which there is a miscarriage of justice.”
AUSA Lindsey Greer Dotson was the only speaker for the Government. Her remarks were significantly shorter than the Defense team. She discussed the following:
- A vote is a vote: Dotson reiterated the Government’s argument that on the Telehealth contract, a “vote is a vote,” even if taken on the consent calendar. And, as such, the vote is both a material and an official act. She added that all reasonable inferences fall in favor of the jury’s verdict.
- Value: Dotson highlighted the Government’s belief that instead of zero value (see above), that value exists for the Telehealth contract, USC scholarship for SRT’s dual master’s program, a paid scholar in residence position, and the $100,000 campaign contribution MRT made to USC.
- Rule 33: Dotson gave a very brief response to this motion. She stated that no errors were made during trial, and that the Defense forfeited its right to object by not raising some issues more forcefully during trial if they had concerns. She concluded by stating the jury’s decisions (i.e., the verdict) are valid.
In a rebuttal to the Prosecution’s argument, Galia Amram reiterated that the Telehealth vote was an administrative matter – i.e., on the consent calendar (which FBI Agent Adkins stated during the trial that he did not understand nor did he make any effort to understand). She highlighted that the Court cannot create materiality for the Government by MRT remaining silent during consideration of the consent calendar. She added that materiality is for the employer (in this case the County of Los Angeles), not a third party (USC or United Ways of California), as claimed by the Prosecution. Amram continued that jury instructions do not equal evidence at trial.
Judge Fischer ended the hearing at 11:05 a.m., saying she would get a written decision out as soon as she is able.
Articles following the hearing:
A must read article:
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